Help at hand with a style makeover
NZ Herald, Sunday December 23, 2007
Personal shoppers as marriage counsellors - it sounds distinctly
odd but there is no doubt that these professional fashionistas can
occasionally have a real effect on relationships.
|Property manager Megan Lamont
gets some top tips about what to wear from personal shopper
/ Janna Dixon
Like the personal image consultant who unknowingly
ended up shopping for a man's wife and his mistress.
Both had commented on the makeover idea to the
husband after separately watching one of the many TV shows of that
"The lover was the feminine sort so there
was lots of lace, frills, very pretty, girly," the consultant
said. The wife, some 10 years her senior, had sunk into the "sloppy
brigade", and her physical self-confidence was low.
"She was a very attractive woman, but it
was hidden." The consultant helped her feel womanly again and
dress accordingly; the marriage revived and the lover departed the
Then there was the woman who, her self-esteem
bolstered by feeling good about herself after a consultant's ministrations,
slept with her husband for the first time in months, re-energising
However, most of the good works done by personal
shoppers or personal image consultants centre on a specialised branch
of "retail therapy" as opposed to couples' therapy. Like
Megan Lamont, who needs some new summer clothes. In the past, this
would have been a fraught matter.
She'd try for adventurous, but Lamont, a petite
37-year-old property manager and mother-of-three, would always find
herself buying the same old, or wrong things. It's Christmas party
season and she only has one dress - it cost a small fortune and
she never wears it. "I'm a sucker for a salesman," she
But this time she has Jacinda Lilly, a personal
shopper, at her side. This time, there will be no mistakes. Decisively,
serenely, Lilly leads Lamont around Auckland's Westfield St Lukes
Mall. She's already figured out Lamont's best colours and her "body
line and style" - garment cuts and lengths that best suit her
figure - and made a recce of the stores.
First stop: Stax. Lilly methodically scans the
racks and pulls out a red lacy dress. Lamont tries it on. It ticks
all the boxes and looks gorgeous but Lamont's put off by the plunging
neckline. Next, Kimberleys. Lamont picks up a white skirt, checks
Lilly's face, which registers gentle disapproval. "Too white?"
A red polka-dot dress? Lilly: "I'd love that
on you if it was a different colour."
They push on. By the morning's end, Lamont has
checked most of her shopping list, and, most importantly, feels
confident in her purchases. "If I'm going to spend money, I
want to spend it well."
Welcome to the world of personal image professionals.
Myths abound in this sometimes loopy-sounding territory, so let's
debunk a few.
Myth number one
Personal shoppers, more commonly and grandly
known as image consultants, made famous by a gaggle of blistering
makeover TV shows, are reserved for the rich and fabulous and for
ladies who lunch.
In fact, it's often the ladies - and gentlemen - who have neither
the time nor dosh for lunch who are paying experts to show them
how to get the biggest, and most flattering, bang for their bucks.
"It's regular people," says Lilly, a trained
teacher who started her business Imago Dei earlier this year after
retraining in the field.
Susan Axford has been in the sartorial
fairy godmother business for 10 years.
"It's become more acceptable to seek help in different
areas of your life... We're all so busy now. We can't be experts
on everything," she says.
Mary Cox helped introduce New Zealanders to what
she calls image development 25 years ago. She says after a 10-year
lull, the industry is rebounding. "Image is coming back. People
have forgotten how to buy quality clothes, how to shop within a
budget, they want more value for money. People are tiring of the
Leonie Dobbs, a Wellington consultant with 11
years' experience, agrees. Basic grooming and style nous that used
to be passed down by grandmothers, she says, have been lost (muffin
tops and visible panty lines, anyone?).
People who hire personal image consultants range
from 20-somethings wanting to look the part for their first real
job, to mums wanting to focus on themselves after years of focusing
on others, to septuagenarians seeking a little je ne sais quoi.
Guided by clients' budget and taste, a good personal shopper will
scour the rag trade, from op shops to bespoke tailors.
Hair, make-up, accessories, glasses and, sometimes,
things such as comportment and handshake firmness are scrutinised.
Of course, some clients are celebrities. Axford
won't name names but has arranged for stores to open out of hours
for high-profile clients who don't want to be photographed with
a personal shopper.
Myth number two
Personal shoppers are glorified rent-a-girlfriends.
Axford: "It's very different from taking your girlfriend out
for a wander around the shops."
However, the past few years have seen a proliferation
of people promoting themselves as image consultants without any
formal training. Cox heads the New Zealand Federation of Image Consultants,
a one-year-old body that aims to set standards and safeguard credibility.
So far, it has only 20 members and some non-members, such as Axford,
are well-trained, so it's not the sine qua non in personal shopping,
but it helps.
Some of the New Zealand schools and courses Cox
endorses: Beauty Spa and Wellbeing (her own school), New Zealand
Fashion Academy, Colours and Harmony, Colour Me Beautiful, and Dobbs'
Expect to pay about $90 an hour for personal shopping
(with or without the client present), about $300-$400 for colour
and style assessments and you can usually get discounts for package
or group deals.
Myth number three
Kiwi blokes don't care about the way
they look. Almost a third of Axford's clients are male. "I
often get men who are divorced and previously their wives shopped
for them because they've always been too busy ... "
Other men can be new to a city and need help to
navigate the shops. They also care about how their women look -
such as the man who engaged a consultant to shop, unknowingly, for
both the wife and the mistress.
Myth number four
All women love shopping. "I haven't had one of my hundreds
of clients walk in to my studio and say 'I like shopping'."
Maybe they find the miles of racks and barrage
of magazine advice bewildering. Maybe they've been burned by costly
past mistakes. Probably, no matter what figure they have, they have
"Women think when they go shopping and they
can't find anything that fits it's because their body is wrong...
but it's just that the manufacturers make for a general idea, which
few of us match perfectly."
Axford estimates she has close to 80 per cent
of the clothes she buys with clients altered. "I've bought
for a client a size 10 and a size 16, on the one morning."
Larger women are confronted with skinny sales
assistants and ranges that don't even go up to their size. Lilly
describes a client who has been reduced to tears by a shopping mall.
"For some people, shopping is overwhelming and intimidating.
They don't know where to start."
Myth number five
Makeovers are only cotton-deep. Makerita,
a 38-year-old family therapist and plus-size, always hated clothes
shopping. She hired Lilly to help her update her wardrobe for a new
job. "I've always been a confident person but I was always self-conscious
about what I was wearing. I'm more myself now because I'm not worried
about it any more."
Last week, she went shopping solo for the first
time since her excursion with Lilly. Success: a top that drew compliments
at her Christmas party. "I was like, yeah!"
Predictably, image consultants talk about the
importance of first impressions (research on how attractiveness
boosts your chances of getting a job, lover, raise, etc).
Beyond appearance, they enthuse about empowering
clients with the tools to take control of not only their image and
self-confidence, but their holistic wellbeing.
Says Dodds: "It's all about getting back
to who you are and loving who you are."
She describes a woman in her early 40s who, post-makeover,
had sex with her husband for the first time in months. "Her
husband was finally taking notice of her because she was dressing
like a woman, not a tent, and she had accepted her body was lovable."
PERSONAL SHOPPERS' SECRETS
- Wait until you're fully dressed to look in the dressing room
mirror, if you look in it at all. The lighting and close quarters
generally do few favours for anyone. Bigger mirrors in the ante-chamber
or shop are truer.
- Don't be a fashion slave. Susan Axford: "Just because it's
'in' fashion, doesn't mean you have to be in it."
- Buy what looks good on you, not your mate or a model, and trust
your first impressions. Axford: "If you have to talk yourself
into it, it's usually wrong."
- Accessories in your true eye colour (not your assumed one, check
in the mirror) will make you look healthier.
- Match the curve of your shoe toes with the curve of your chin
or jaw line for a balanced look.
- To minimise the appearance of a large bust, avoid sleeves that
end at the bustline.
- To minimise bulges, choose loose fabrics but avoid shapeless
"tents" - as they'll only make you look bigger.
- Base your size on your largest measurement and take in clothes
where they don't fit.
- Plan your wardrobe for maximum mix-and-match capacity, and stay
focused. Axford: "You don't need many clothes, but the clothes
you have must look superb on you."
- Sources: Susan Axford, Leonie Dobbs and